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It’s May and you know what that means… Mother’s Day! For the last few years, it has been our tradition to travel to my in-laws for the weekend. My mother-in-law’s birthday is also in May so we celebrate the two together. A normal Mother’s Day for us consists of breakfast as a family, church, and then out to a restaurant for lunch. My wife’s brother and sister join as well. The entire weekend consists of exquisite homemade food, family games and lots of laughs.

Celebrating this year will look very different than ever before, though. Because of COVID-19 and quarantine, we won’t be gathering as a larger family and doing what we normally do. Gifts will look a little different as well. With two small children, we have had the luxury of their respective school and childcare center teachers helping them make cards for Mom. Don’t get me wrong, we have done cards at home as well over the past couple of years, but they are never quite as awesome as what our amazing teachers have been able to produce. 

So as we plan to celebrate a little differently this year, what will that look like?

Here are some ideas to help you make sure that your wife feels all the love this Mother’s Day:

  • Make a video asking your kids what Mom means to them. Here are some questions to kick you off. What does Mom say the most? What is Mom’s favorite thing to do? Of all the things you love about Mom, what do you love the most?
  • Have the kids create a song about Mom and perform it for her on Mother’s Day. Want to live on the wild side? Make a song up about Quarantine Mom.
  • Help the kids make her breakfast or lunch. It doesn’t have to be extravagant… just from the heart. Let the kids lead out and choose what they want to make.
  • Let her sleep in on Mother’s Day. This is a big win. We all know moms need rest.
  • In-Home Spa Day anyone? My 4-year-old likes to paint nails and give foot rubs. You can all pamper Mom as a family.
  • Homemade cards are always a win. You may have to be a little sneakier this year though if you are all at home.
  • Does Mom love to travel? Take virtual tours of her favorite places or somewhere she has always wanted to visit. Let Mom decide and take a trip as a family.
  • Is Mom crafty? What is her favorite craft? Whether she likes to paint, knit, or anything else, get some supplies together and create as a family. 
  • Does Mom love movies? Watch her favorite movie as a family. Create a movie theater experience for her complete with popcorn and her favorite snacks.

Most importantly, let’s show Mom that she is loved and appreciated. From what I’ve learned over the years (from both my mom and my wife), celebrating Mom is a lot less about the cost and a lot more about the thought and heart put into the gift. That’s what matters most. 

Don’t let the quarantine stop you. Make this the best Mother’s Day ever!

Image from Pexels.com

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death brought to the forefront a great conversation about being a girl dad. Elle Duncan from ESPN Sports Center spoke about meeting Bryant when she was eight months pregnant. He congratulated her and when he found out she was having a girl, and he high-fived her and said, “Girls are the best!” Bryant said that he and his wife had talked about having more children, but they joked: What if they had another girl? Duncan said, “Four girls…

Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

“The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

The article cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? How about income inequality? How about more student debt?”

“The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

“The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college – not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships – all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys. She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media, which may be more toxic than the gaming which is more popular among boys.

Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions – whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

“Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression, yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

The last point Twenge makes is that while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

“Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes. “If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

The moral of this story is – don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

 

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

Image from Unsplash.com

It was 3 AM. Our two-week-old son, Strider, was crying for the third time that night. To say we were exhausted was an understatement. We were full-blown zombies ready to eat each other alive.

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Christmas and Back to School are the two hot times for parents to purchase cellphones for their kids, but what are the right age and the right kind of phone for your child and how do you keep them safe in this Digital Age?

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When groups of women who work together become pregnant at the same time, workplace conversations usually surround the fact that the department will have a hard time when these women all take maternity leave.

Contrast that response to a story that hit the airwaves about seven firefighters at the same fire station in Oklahoma. Their wives became pregnant around the same time, but no one really commented about how the station would operate while these dads took time off to be with their newborn babies.

While moms are essential to infant care, many people often overlook or don’t discuss the benefits to mom and child when the father is more involved in the caregiving process.

Articles from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) highlight the fact that father-infant bonding is just as important as mother-infant bonding. In fact, delayed bonding can alter the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence. It can also increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.

According to the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing:

  • Fathers reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth.
  • Mothers reported that they started to experience motherhood as soon they discovered they were pregnant. 
  • Although most fathers expect to bond emotionally and immediately with their newborns, some fathers still did not feel bonded to their infants as long as six weeks to two months after birth.  

Successful father-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period offers several benefits for the infant: 

  • It reduces cognitive delay,
  • Promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and
  • Improves breastfeeding rates.
  • Research shows that when the father frequently visits their prematurely-born child in the hospital, babies are more likely to get out of the hospital sooner, develop their brains better and have more psychomotor functioning. The more the father can be there, the better the child tends to improve.

A study by Kyle Pruett at Yale University showed that even for children born full-term, the importance of father involvement is enormous. 

  • A father breathing on the child when it is first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain, too. 
  • The sooner the father gets involved with the child, neurons in the male brain begin to develop and connect with each other – mimicking the mother instinct. 
  • When fathers are involved, their oxytocin levels go up and testosterone levels go down, and Dad is satisfied from the emotional intimacy with his child. Mother and child benefit from that, too.

“Father-infant bonding is an issue that is not discussed enough and is just as important as mother-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period,” said AWHONN’s Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN. “It is vitally important for a father to interact and bond with his newborn to help the infant’s development and to reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression.”

Dads can bond with their unborn children by talking, singing or reading to them in the womb. AWHONN offers these tips to help dads continue the bonding process after the baby arrives: 

  • Jump right in. Don’t be afraid to begin immediately caring for and loving your baby. The more you hold your baby, the more comfortable and natural it will feel.
  • Take a night shift. Once mom is breastfeeding well, she may want to let you give the baby a nighttime meal. This way she can get more sleep and you will have the opportunity to bond with your newborn.
  • Read your newborn a book. Your newborn will enjoy the rhythm and pace of your voice while you read a book. In these early months, it’s not about what you’re reading; it’s about reading itself.
  • Initiate the bath. Bathing your newborn will enhance bonding and provide a multi-sensory learning experience.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. Infants will learn to depend on the consistency and predictability of a nighttime routine.

The research is solid that fathers profoundly impact the lives of their children, even as infants. While you may be hesitant to take time off from work to be with your newborn because you think bonding with Mom is more important for the baby, you might want to think again. This is actually a one-time opportunity to give your child a gift money can’t buy – time with you, and more benefits for your family than you realize. 

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 21, 2019.

Your bride gives you the news: This Friday night I’m going out with the girls, so you’re on kid duty. Good luck!

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Anger, hurt and fear are some of the emotions Ben Petrick felt when it was confirmed in 2000 that at age 22 he had early-onset Parkinson’s disease. He went from being a very gifted catcher with an incredible future with the Colorado Rockies to not knowing what tomorrow would bring.  

“My entire identity was in baseball,” said Petrick. “I spent most of my adult life with 25 guys in a clubhouse or on the field. I had only wished for two things in life, to play pro baseball and to be a father. Now, one of those had been stripped from me and I had no clue how I would do the other with my physical limitations. I was very down. The disease progressed over five years to the point that there were many times I was not able to help care for our daughter.”

In an effort to improve his quality of life, Petrick underwent risky surgery. Initially, the surgery seemed to be successful, but a short time later he developed an infection which landed him back in the hospital and unable to move. At this point, he told his father he thought that his family might be better off if they didn’t have to worry about him.

“My dad looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever say that. You have a daughter at home who is counting on you. Quit thinking about yourself and think about your daughter.’ Not a surprising response from the man who had pushed me my entire life to be a better person,” he recalled.

A few months later, Petrick underwent a successful second surgery. With medication, his physical ability was back to almost 100 percent. While his wife taught, he was able to help with their two daughters, Makena and Madison. He also gave private lessons and helped coach a local high school baseball team.

“When the disease robbed me of the thing I loved, I was bitter and had no clue who I was anymore,” Petrick said. “Looking back, my baseball career seems like a million years ago. I am happy that I had the opportunity to play. I didn’t finish my career the way I wanted, but I am okay with that. My focus has turned to caring for my wife and girls. My oldest daughter could care less that I am not playing ball anymore. She just wants me to get on the floor and play princess. I figured out that my little girls gave me something that 40,000 fans in the stands couldn’t give me, a love that made me want to live.”

It was only through adversity that Petrick figured out his real purpose in life.

“When you marry and have children, you give your wife and kids a ‘Forever card,’” he said. “It signifies that I’ll be there for them yesterday, today and always. I had definitely been thrown a curveball, but in the darkest time, my purpose became clear: My job was to focus on the needs of those I love.”

“I used to think that being a champion depended on what I did when nobody else was watching,” Petrick said. “Now I know it is about what I do before the eyes of two precious little girls.”

To learn more about Petrick, you can check out his full story on ESPN 360 or read a collection of short stories from his life in the book, 40,000 to One.

We can all demonstrate a healthy and responsible fatherhood model for our community. Pass this information along to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

With friends and in your own family…

  • Participate in marriage and family enrichment programs and encourage friends to do it, too.
  • Honor the covenant of marriage and be an accountability partner for fellow married friends.
  • Help mothers to be supportive of fathers’ involvement with their children, and ask your wife how you can be more involved with your own children.

If you’re an employer…

  • Create personnel policies and work environments that respect and encourage the commitment of fathers, and that enable parents to be more involved with their children.
  • Research the effects of relocating families and find ways to make the transition as smooth as possible for employees who must move.

If you’re a civic leader, elected official or community organizer…

  • Promote community organizations that model fatherhood and male responsibility.
  • Strive to develop neighborhoods that are stable and supportive of family life.

If you’re a religious leader or organizer…

  • Challenge fathers to assume moral and spiritual responsibilities.
  • Offer a broad program of teaching, supporting, counseling and training fathers in their vital role.
  • Encourage and recognize involved fathers, and provide opportunities for men to learn from each other.

If you’re a mental healthcare worker, healthcare or a family life educator…

  • Begin with a view in favor of fatherhood within the context of a marriage relationship.
  • Guide fathers to both accept and appreciate their unique roles within the family.
  • Provide continuing education on fatherhood and its responsibilities.

If you’re a family law attorney or judge…

  • Promote accountability of all fathers for each of their children.
  • Reassess current trends in family law and be an advocate for responsible fathering.

If you’re an educator or childcare provider…

  • Encourage fathers’ involvement in the classroom and invite fathers or father figures to participate in school activities.
  • Educate boys and young men concerning their potential influence as fathers.
  • Train staff about the father’s crucial role in a child’s developmental growth.

If you work in media or journalism…

  • Promote articles, research and organizations that address and offer solutions to fathering issues.
  • Discourage advertisements or programming that reflects irresponsible fathering practices.

Wondering how you can connect with your kiddos? Here’s a list to get you started!

  • Plan a regular time for Daddy/Child date to do something fun and adventurous.
  • Write a short message to them on a stick-it note and hide it in their lunch.
  • Let your child help you wash the car or fix something.
  • Play a game with them – one that they want to play.
  • If you like to cook, let them help you.
  • Take them to the park.
  • Teach your child how to do something like build a kite, a soapbox derby car, a paper airplane, etc.
  • Tell them what life was like when you were their age.
  • Listen to them – learn about their favorite things, who their friends are, their favorite game, etc.